The story of this encounter starts with an invitation from a couple to a rare performance. It promised to be a first for me; filled with music, lights and laughter, shimmering trinkets and glee. And as most such evenings it began with a tall beer, white wine and seeking out the best available seats in the house for three. I took my trusty K5 knowing full well that snapping wouldn’t easily be allowed, but since I was feeling ‘special’ I asked permission and the condition was – no flash. I’d brought one of my better lenses; a handsome 35mm HD Macro Limited (from Pentax with the red line). Ironic it seems how lenses boast being able to capture in the dark, when it’s really all about catching the light. Anyway one sensation followed another, and true to promise to me, what an enchanting experience it all turned out to be.
Flabbergast in Retrospect
It was all a little funny, smiles in dim light bright and sunny. Still-a-little flashed today I write, and tweak and post and ponder and find, that even I could have been taken by encounter of a belly kind. Lights down low, too low and quickly panic set in, show’s about to begin and on my face not a grin. No wait! I’m not ready – divas do the fashionably late, music starts insistent and the dancers step in. There’s a head in my way, this try’ll certainly be a total flop, lights dimmed lower, thrower, – need a full-frame not a crop. What a night, what a fight like tango, but why even try to win, better find a flow, fandango, with such a misty moody light. Without a doubt this is where it’s at, I’ll just give it all my best shot, players fill the room with magic from tiny seats-upon which they’re sat.
Images of the Show
Working with Circumstance
The best camera is always the one you have with you, yes – but I was still worried that the lighting in this setting though perfect for an enthralling performance, might not have been so perfect for my little Pentax-K5. In spite of that to my surprise, from the relative safety my proud ‘beginners’ badge’, the outcomes and feedback received were surprisingly gratifying. Low light therefore turned out to be a blessing in disguise, and gave me a good excuse to pop the detail, superimpose stronger lines, to play with dubious split tones, unapologetic saturation, real blacks and drama. So catching the light indeed it was – and sensing when and how to patiently allow, the dancers’ gait to lead the eyes to a ‘flattering still’..
Adventures in the RAW
For the snaptech-enthusiasts out there, the intention was to give shutter speed (1/100) priority over exposure, so I shot in manual and in RAW without flash, at f2.8 to let the most light in. That’s my lens’ maximum aperture; a trade-off in that there would only be just enough sharpness on the subject point when I was lucky enough to catch that ‘flattering still’. And though not-exactly creamy bokeh is to be seen, due in this 35mm case to distance from the subjects, there was a nicely mooded balance of smoky blurs, from movement and enough from depth of field..
Post production in RAW was also most interesting; great fun. I kinda had to do that anyway, since I wanted deeper access too as much colour information as possible as captured on my lowly crop sensor. Instead of opting to later apply heavy noise reduction from a would-be typical high ISO of say 25,600, I chose to shoot at a moderate 400, and to lift the exposure and lighten some shadows later. The approach yielded better results; though at first glance there was just a little more than black to be seen in preview mode. After a little work in RAW it was quickly observed that there was actually everything there needed to lift the images to life. Like knowing a system, by actively manually tweaking for the shot, trusting testing and planning to adjust..
Since the scene suffered no shortage of shadows, black and white renditions worked best. I did enjoy tweaking individual colours for the most separation – many different shades of grey; maintaining real blacks and detail in the shadows. The end effect appeared fitting to the art form, and imposed an unexpected air of authenticity with what I think is a pleasingly cinematic 20s look.
Special thanks to the swellegant Shalymar, Dancers, Musicians and Co
Shalymar recognises the challenge of seeking to balance a passion for the performing arts with the mundane. Balance in this context is like a fleeting illusion – never really achieved. It’s a passion that drives in a way that only a dancer can understand, and involves always figuring out how, to live that passion in the ideal of an ever-changing now..
It’s ironic that in this constellation the mundane also draws benefit, in that it is dealt with ever more efficiently, thus leaving more space for the art. Maybe it’s this tension; this fact that it never fits; this perpetual dance of coming to terms – that is in large part, the art itself. Shalymar lives her passion for oriental dance and culture; works in finance and runs her own dance school, offering training workshops and performances globally.
Safe for Children – no stretching, trimming or bending applied just riddim and clicks =)